May 26, 2010

Being Blackmailed into Tax Fraud

In this African country I am in, tax officials do everything within their power to push honest taxpayers into fraud. They do this so that the taxpayer becomes out of compliance and can then be blackmailed into bribes.
A couple weeks ago, our company signed a new corporate lease for the building we are in. We extended the lease term to 10 years and we expanded the amount of space we were in. Our contract calls for our rent to be paid monthly in advance.

The law requires that all contracts be registered with tax officials within a 30 day period from signature. The registration fee is equal to 5% of the yearly lease amount and it must be paid every year and in advance.
So when we went to the tax office to register our new lease yesterday, we went prepared to pay the 5% of the yearly lease amount. Let’s say our rent is $1,000 per month, which comes to $12,000 per year. That would be a $600 registration fee.

After looking at the content of the lease, the tax officials told us that since it was a commercial lease, the tax is 10% annually and not 5%. So this morning, we returned to the tax office with the 10% fee which, based on our example, is $1,200.

Well, as if that is not enough of a hindrance for taxpayers, the tax officials informed us today that since the lease is for 10 years, we must pay in advance, the tax for the 10 years. In our same example, this would mean $12,000 in taxes to comply to register a lease for which monthly rent is $1,000!

We don’t think this is true. But the tax officials are refusing to register the lease. They will probably continue to refuse until the 30 day period is passed. After the 30 days, there is a 100% penalty. This means that whether we have to pay the registration tax for 1 year or 10 years, the fee will be doubled. So we will have to pay, under the example, $2,400 or $24,000 to make legal a lease for which rent is $1,000 a month.

Of course, the tax officials will then propose an easier, less expensive way, through bribery. We have decided not to give in to the blackmail. We will pay an amount equivalent to 10% in tax and get our receipt, even if they don’t register the lease itself.

It is exhausting to try to fight corruption day in and day out. It would be so much easier to go with the flow. We are continuously “punished” for trying to do the right thing. I wonder how much longer we will be able to resist…


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